Tips for creating a successful family law practice — and handling a work-life chock full of domestic drama without burning out.
Family law is definitely not for every lawyer. But while plenty of lawyers run screaming from the thought of dealing with the raw stuff of human emotion, those in the trenches love it for just that reason. We do it because those messy issues are incredibly important: children, love, marriage, sex, money, addiction, domestic violence — you name it.
In my new novel, “Every Other Weekend”, I dive into these issues more deeply, but even in a fictional world, it’s clear how indispensable a family lawyer can be. And, let’s be honest, family law is way more interesting than a desk full of corporate documents.
Still, to make a decent living as a family lawyer — and handle a work-life chock full of domestic drama without burning out — help is needed.
8 Lessons from a Family Law Practice Fanatic
My partners and I have learned many lessons as we’ve built our practice. I am happy to share these eight tips to keep my colleagues at the family law bar both sane and successful.
1. Be Scrupulous About Conflict Checks
Do not talk to anyone about anything to do with their domestic situation before you’ve cleared conflicts. Do not give off-the-cuff advice at cocktail parties or family barbecues!
2. Do Real Consultations, Not Free Meet-and-Greets
We tell potential clients to expect to be with us for one to two hours, and we charge a flat fee. This is an excellent value for clients and a good business practice for the firm. If you spend one to two hours getting to know someone, analyzing their situation, and strategizing about their legal options, our experience is that person will very likely retain you for representation going forward.
3. Explain the Roles You Can Play in Assisting Clients
Explain the different roles and various service levels you offer in your family law practice, then ask which they want to start with. For example:
- Coach to help them negotiate a settlement directly with the opposing party (assuming no history of domestic violence)
- Advise and support them through the mediation process with an outside mediator (assuming no history of domestic violence)
- Negotiate on their behalf with opposing counsel
- Litigate and have the court make the decisions
4. Answer Your Email
Try to respond to all client emails within 24 hours, even if that response is, “Got it — will call you on Tuesday.” “Lack of responsiveness” is a reason we hear all the time from clients who have decided to switch counsel.
5. Create a Wall and Keep It Low, But Firm
Set boundaries and do not make a habit of texting with clients or answering emails at midnight or 5 a.m. These rules are suspended in the event of an emergency or the night before, or the morning of a court appearance!
6. Be Very Clear About Billing
Our hourly rates at my firm are posted on our website, which is unusual but much appreciated by potential clients. Relationships can get close with domestic relations clients, so clearly separate billable vs. non-billable time. If you chitchat at the beginning of a call about your vacation or your client’s mother’s illness, always tell the client, “This is off the clock.” Then let them know that the clock is on when you get down to business. Clients will greatly appreciate this.
7. Create Agreement Templates in Plain English
No “heretofores” or “aforementioneds.” Not necessary!
Alternative dispute resolution methods are increasingly popular, and it expands your professional skillset to learn to play these different roles.
Margaret Klaw’s first novel, “Every Other Weekend“ is a satirical view of a divorce and custody case told from multiple — and often conflicting — points of view (She Writes Press, May 2023).
“Margaret Klaw’s keen observations about the law and human nature are eye-opening and jaw-dropping. A must-read!” – Lisa Scottoline
Learn more at www.margaretklaw.com